Your 15 Minutes: Joe Genetin-Pi​lawa

History always interested Joe Genetin-Pilawa, but he primarily viewed history studies as a pathway to
law school. A visit to the Walpole Island Indian Reserve in Canada alongside an engaging history
professor changed Joe’s perspective. Meeting the people of Walpole Island and talking with them about
the history of colonialism became a “transformative moment” for Joe. He viewed history in a new and
compelling way and this experience changed the course of his professional plans.
Visiting Walpole Island “crystalized the living legacy and dialogue of past and present in a way it hadn’t
before,” Joe explains. He returned from the visit with a renewed passion for history. His professor, Ed
Danziger of Bowling Green State University, encouraged his interest.
Danziger, a seasoned professor of forty years at the time, taught with a youthful passion that inspired
Joe and Danzinger provided a professional role model and a mentor for the young man. Through the
professor’s eyes, Joe saw the professional possibilities with history as a historian, researcher, writer and
teacher. He decided to pursue a PhD in history and says, “I never really looked back after that.” Joe
graduated with his bachelor’s degree in three years and his master’s degree by the age of 23.
Joe earned his PhD in History from Michigan State in 2008 and joined the staff of Illinois College that
same year. He teaches a variety of interesting courses at IC, from early United States History, to Native
American History, to the History of Gender and Sexuality. Joe also offers topic specific courses, such as
The Great Depression and the less traditional Creation and Demise, a course addressing historical fears
about the end of time.
Working with students at IC is an absolute pleasure for Joe, who says, “I’ve had amazing students here
at IC. They are genuine, inspiring people. I can’t say enough about them.” He enjoys being a part of an
intellectual community and sharing his passion for history with students.
Joe’s teaching philosophy centers around helping students experience history in a new way, much as he
did as an undergrad. He explains, “There many opportunities to celebrate United States history in
education, but I don’t think we push ourselves as often to think critically about it.” His goal is to help
students look critically at history and explore it in a new way. Native American history, especially,
provides a wealth of opportunities for critical thinking.
As an advisor to senior students, Joe often encourages students to focus their senior thesis topics on
local history, so they can engage with real documents. Past student projects have included focusing on
the Illinois College archives and the Governor Duncan Mansion. “I think it’s really important to give
students the opportunity to engage hands-on with historical documents,” Joe says, and to visit public
history sites.
In addition to teaching, Joe is passionate about the research and writing aspects of his profession. His
first book, Crooked Paths to Allotment: The Fight Over Federal Indian Policy After the Civil War, was
published in 2012 and will be available in paperback this fall. His second book, Beyond Two Worlds:
Critical Conversations on Language and Power in Native America will soon be released.  Joe has been very appreciative of the support of the local booksellers at Our Town Books, who hosted a
book reading and signing for his work. While these books have a primarily academic audience, Joe says
he would love it if people who are more generally interested in history found them compelling and
accessible.
Joe’s latest project, The Indian’s Capital City, will mean a 15 month sabbatical from his role at Illinois
College from May 2014 to August 2015. In 2012, Joe experienced a summer fellowship at the US Capital
Building with The Architect of the Capital. This coming May, he will return to Washington DC with the
help of two fellowships, The Smithsonian Institution Post-Doctoral Fellowship and the Library of
Congress John W Kluge Fellowship.
When his research is complete, Joe will return to Illinois College, where he was recently recommended
for tenure. Listening to Joe speak passionately about his work, it’s easy to imagine that transformative
moment on Walpole Island. “I couldn’t imagine doing something else,” Joe says of his work. “I love
teaching. I love writing and research.”
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